Perspectives of Women in Technology - Part 3

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To highlight and share stories of women in technology, we've rounded up a group of Lullabots to talk about their journeys into technology, which tools they use on a regular basis, the skills they're learning, and what advice they'd share with their younger selves. 

Here are the stories of Katherine "Kat" Shaw, Senior Front-end DeveloperApril Sides, Senior Developer, and Jaden Johnston, Head of Business Development at Tugboat.qa.

Tell us about your journey into technology.

Kat: I started working in web development 20+ years ago to raise my now 22-year-old son at home. I'm self-taught, and I've had the pleasure of working for several great companies and organizations, including Spencer Reed Group, Autodesk, Douglas County, Kansas, and now Lullabot. I've built wonderful friendships over those years, and I've developed a lot of useful skills that I carry with me now. While working in the local government, I honed my accessibility skills and became an ardent advocate in making the web equal for all. 

April: I initially wanted to learn 3D animation in college but realized I didn't quite have the patience for it. Along the way, I discovered web design and development. However, as I reached graduation, I was more interested in print design. 

I had an internship that turned into a part-time job out of college and kicked-off my career doing print and web design/development. I went on to work in higher education, doing both print and web work, but then decided I wanted to focus on back-end development. 

I moved from Communications to the IT department, but I ended up spending a lot of time in Sharepoint. It was then that I decided I wanted to be a Drupal developer. I responded to an obscure Drupal Developer ad on Monster.com, which ended up being a government contractor job working on websites for the United States Global Change Research Program.

After a few years in the federal government, I decided to try remote agency work. I spent a few years at Mediacurrent learning Drupal 8 and trying my hand at a little project management. Looking for a change in environment, I took a chance and applied to Lullabot. I feel fortunate every day to be right where I'm supposed to be.

Jaden: My professional journey through tech started with an interesting, albeit necessary, stint in tech support. My first real tech job was in a network support center supporting back-end processing for banks and financial institutions. I learned so much in this position and quickly found that this was the road I was meant to be on and grew much of my seemingly-natural technical ability. After a few years of moving up the career ladder of that company, I knew that I wanted to focus more on the web development industry. I'd been dabbling in building small websites, graphic design, and photography, so I decided to jump ship from tech support and take any role I could in a creative agency setting.

Landing my first agency job as a Production Coordinator helped me develop and hone in project management skills, and I was grateful to have had technical experience and be well versed in early web-tech (like pre-CSS days!), so I could communicate effectively with dev teams and translate client needs into technical requirements for web and mobile projects.

I wanted to grow my ability to manage a lot of things at a time and had a desire to get involved in every aspect of the business that I could, so I learned best practices for resource allocation and agency traffic coordination. Eventually, I began to participate more regularly in business development activities and became the bridge between sales and production. I knew that I wanted to take on leadership roles at some point, so I challenged myself and took calculated risks to accelerate growth.

I crossed over from client services agency to product and doubled down on my selling skills. This role grew from inside sales to management to directing a cross-functional team and focusing on operational excellence, which allowed me to find even more of my calling in leadership, coaching, and helping others get better. Joining the Tugboat/Lullabot team is a dream come true. I am able to leverage nearly every skill in my repertoire AND gain new ones. There's always opportunity; you just gotta go get it! 

Which tools do you use on a regular basis in your work, and what types of skills are you currently learning?

Kat: I use several accessibility tools, including Color Contrast Checker, WhatFont, Axe, etc. I also use debugging tools in Drupal in order to troubleshoot coding issues during development. I'm currently focusing on CSS Grid, CSS Variables, BEM (Block Element Modifier), and React.

April: For communication, I use Slack, Google Meet, and Zoom. For planning, I typically use Google Suite, Dropbox, and Jira. For development, my current toolset includes a MacBook Pro, Drupal, Docker, Lando, PHPStorm, XDebug, Drush, Git, Bitbucket, and Tugboat.qa. A few other tools include Postman for authenticated API exploration, Monosnap for screenshots, and CopyClip to manage my clipboard.

Best tool of all: Google search.

Jaden: I have morphed from technical support to project management, business development, and now am using all of those strengths to lean into operations and leadership. I am driven by empowering and unblocking others to do their best work. My idea of success is seeing others grow.

I am currently learning how to unlearn and am realizing that a lot of the old things I was using in my previous role no longer apply. I need to adapt and grow and literally unlearn some of the methodologies and approaches I used in the past. It's challenging because you can come to trust yourself when you've got tried and true methods for certain things, but you cannot allow yourself to become inflexible and cemented in your ways.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Kat: Keep up the hard work. You'll be fine, and it will be worth it in the end. Know your value!

April: Negotiate your salary. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. Figure out who you are, and don't be afraid to be yourself. Realize your personal values and use them to guide your life and career. Know that this quote is true: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

Jaden: Trust your gut. Lead with empathy. Never stop learning. Never assume. You got this.

What's important to you when you build, create, and use technology?

Kat: To build things with accessibility and mobile-first in mind, keep things clean and tidy, to indent properly, document properly, and always focus on learning new things so that I'm always growing. Also, always share what you know with others. That's what it's all about. 

April: I like to solve complex problems and build solutions that solve problems for people.

Jaden: That it works the way I want it to. Just kidding, sort of. It needs to work for all of us.

What's a fun fact, favorite hobby, secret talent, or big goal you'd like to share?

Kat: I know a lot of unimportant things about movies, tv shows, and music, although I find it fascinating. My brother and I speak in a language of quotes from movies, and I can recognize a lot of songs after hearing just a few notes. 

I love to learn! I constantly look up people on Wikipedia to learn more about them, regardless of who they are. A big goal for me is to KonMari my life because I'm a big believer in "less is more," and I want that for my family and me. Another goal was achieved by becoming a member of the Lullabot team!

April: I'm a huge LEGO and Harry Potter fan. I collected all 22 of the 2018 LEGO Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts minifigures with only two duplicates. I also posted a photo series from the 2019 LEGO Harry Potter Advent Calendar, and I'm excited to do the same for 2020. 

Jaden: I love to sing. It's cathartic, and there's nothing like that feeling.

Do you have perspectives to share? We'd love to hear them as we're all learning, growing, and getting better at our craft. Leave us a comment or tweet us @Lullabot.

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Monica S. Flores

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Monica S. Flores is a Technical Project Manager who has been building websites since 2004.